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Upper Fourth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Darrell and her friends are studying hard for their exams, but there is a lot to distract them. Not only has Darrell’s younger sister, new to the school, fallen under the spell of an awful first year, but Gwen seems to think she has developed a heart problem. Can the upper fourth sort things out, or is the scary Head Mistress going to have to step in?”

REVIEW: Yet another heartwarming tale from the Malory Towers series, this book sees Darrell and her form struggling to pass her exams as events seem to conspire to stop them. The arrival of the new twins, Connie and Ruth, sees the fourth formers becoming increasingly frustrated as Connie dominates her younger twin and refuses to allow her to speak for herself – and things become much worse for the twins and their classmates when it seems that someone is set to sabotage Connie. Darrell is disappointed in how little her younger sister Felicity seems to need her since her arrival at Malory Towers, and as Head Girl is rather concerned about Felicity’s friendship with Alicia’s rude younger cousin, June, who seems to have little care for anyone but herself. Finally, after latching on to the unwell new girl Clarissa, Gwen decides to imagine herself with a heart problem like Clarissa’s in order to avoid taking her exams, an idea that will drastically change her days at Malory Towers. What with all of this chaos, it seems unlikely that poor Darrell and her friends will ever succeed in their exams; but as is always the case, all works out well in the end.

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The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. After a tornado swept through my trailer park, I ended up in Oz. But it wasn’t like the Oz I knew from books and movies. Dorothy had returned, and she was stealing magic from the land. The Wizard was back. Glinda could no longer be called the Good Witch. And the Wicked Witches who were left? They’d joined forces as the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, and they wanted to recruit me. My mission? Kill Dorothy. Except my job as an assassin didn’t work out as planned. Dorothy is still alive. The Order has vanished. And the home I couldn’t wait to leave behind might be in danger. But in a place where the line between good and evil shifts with a strong gust of wind…who am I supposed to trust? And who is actually Wicked?”

REVIEW: This second installment of the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series picks up immediately after the previous novel left off, with Amy and her monkey friends Ollie and Maud fleeing to seek safety with the rest of the flying monkeys. Amy has failed her orders to kill Dorothy, who has escaped along with Glinda, and has also found herself without a clue of how to find the rest of the Order. With the demented Ozma/Pete in tow, Amy and her friends seek sanctuary with the somewhat unfriendly Lurline, and experience ever more adventures as they try to keep out of Dorothy’s clutches and find the rest of the order. It is difficult to describe the book in too much detail as I don’t wish to give anything away, particularly as the final installment of the trilogy has only just been released. This book is as easy to read as the first and is gripping and fast-paced, full of action; because of this, things can sometimes seem a little rushed and may require more than one read, but this is simply due to the many dangers and chaotic events that follow Amy rather than being a flaw in the writing of the author. The twist at the end, which involves both Amy and Dorothy, is brilliant and sets us up nicely for the next book, ‘Yellow Brick Wars’, which promises to be just as exciting and thrilling as the rest of the series!

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Third Year at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Darrell and her friends are delighted to be back for their third year at Malory Towers. This year there are some new faces too – the snobbish American, Zerelda, and the tom-boyish Bill. But it’s Mavis with her precious singing voice who causes the biggest upset of the year.”

REVIEW: The third book in the wonderful Malory Towers series opens with Darrell heading back to Malory Towers without her best friend, Sally, who is in quarantine for an illness, leaving her instead stuck with one of the new girls, an overconfident American girl named Zerelda who likes to pretend she is much older than the rest of the schoolgirls. Zerelda, with her make-up and fancy hairstyles, struggles to fit in at Malory Towers despite the admiration of Gwendoline, who it seems will never learn her lesson at the school. She is also joined in being an outcast by Mavis, a boastful young girl whose singing voice has given her dreams of becoming a famous opera star. The other new girl, Bill, however, fits in much better and provides some drama and excitement by bringing her horse, Thunder, along to Malory Towers, who provides for me the most upsetting moment of the series when he becomes unwell with colic and Bill struggles to save his life. Mavis also provides some drama when she decides to flee the school in the middle of the night in order to compete in a village competition, leading her to damage her voice possibly forever. This is one of my favourite books in the series, with the interactions of Zerelda providing some light relief, as well as the sneezing pellet trick – and once again, provides a heartwarming tale showing how people can change for the better.

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Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Back to Malory Towers and in the Second Form now, Darrell and her friends know that they should be a little more grown-up. But sometimes sheer mischief gets the better of them…and they think they can get the better of the mistresses. Are they about to go one trick too far?”

REVIEW: The second installment in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series is just as entertaining and heartwarming as the first, once again containing important messages about friendship and the difference between right and wrong. Malory Towers has welcomed three new girls at the beginning of this book; the quiet, serious scholarship girl, Ellen; the scatty and artistic Belinda; and the rich and boastful Daphne. Whilst Belinda fits in instantly, both Ellen and Daphne have a little more trouble, though for very different reasons. Ellen is struggling to maintain the high grades that led her to achieve the scholarship, and is worried that she will disappoint her parents, whilst Daphne has made friends with the spoilt Gwendoline and is hiding a dark secret behind her bragging. Combined with this, Alicia is causing friction among the second formers as she grows jealous of Sally’s position as head girl, which leads her to play a very amusing trick on the teachers – which, I do believe, will make any reader laugh out loud no matter how old they are! Things begin to get worse for poor Ellen, however, when she becomes unwell and is accused of stealing by the other girls when she is in fact trying to find test papers to cheat from. I will not reveal who the real thief is here, though I know many of you will have read the book, as it is always nice to leave you with some element of surprise! I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading these childhood favourites and would definitely recommend them to those who haven’t already been acqauinted with them.

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The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and the Year that Made the Canterbury Tales by Paul Strohm

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “For Geoffrey Chaucer, 1386 was the year that changed everything, transforming him from a middle-aged bureaucrat to a disgraced and penniless exile in Kent. Such a reverseal might have spelled the end of his career; but instead, at the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to ‘maken vertu of necessitee’ and begin work on a radically new form of poetry which would become The Canterbury Tales.”

REVIEW: This book tells the story of the year 1386 as it was in England, using Chaucer as a case study to focus a wide narrative that looks at how factors out of Chaucer’s control – like his sister-in-law’s affair with John of Gaunt – impacted his life and livelihood and led to his exile in Kent. In exploring the life of Chaucer through this lens, often linking sections of his poetry to contemporary affairs or things that we know Chaucer personally witnessed or experienced, Strohm also gives us a brief overview of what life was like in medieval England. Therefore, although Chaucer is the main focus of this book, which is engagingly written and easy to read, the reader also gains a great deal of information about practical matters in medieval London, such as the impact of marriage, Parliament, lodgings, society, ect. Strohm’s use of Chaucer’s poetry here is also very well done, as it fits seamlessly into the bulk of non-fiction text despite its fictional nature, giving us a much more complete picture of what Chaucer’s tales were actually about and how they fit in to the landscape of medieval England. This book provides much to enjoy for both historians and lovers of literature, serving a dual purpose to those interested in both, and provides a brief but fascinating snapshot into the life of one of England’s most famous writers.